Tuesday, October 11, 2016

From Russia With Malice

Kurt Eichenwald at Newsweek discovered that the Russians have been using his material published in Newsweek to try to manipulate the U.S. election.  The good news is that they are klutzes at it.

I am Sidney Blumenthal. At least, that is what Vladimir Putin—and, somehow, Donald Trump—seem to believe. And that should raise concerns not only about Moscow’s attempts to manipulate this election, but also how Trump came to push Russian disinformation to American voters.

An email from Blumenthal—a confidant of Hillary Clinton and a man, second only to George Soros at the center of conservative conspiracy theories—turned up in the recent document dump by Wikileaks. At a time when American intelligence believes Russian hackers are trying to interfere with the presidential election, records have been fed recently to Wikileaks out of multiple organizations of the Democratic Party, raising concerns that the self-proclaimed whistleblowers group has become a tool of Putin’s government. But now that I have been brought into the whole mess—and transformed into Blumenthal—there is even more proof that this act of cyberwar is not only being orchestrated by the Russians, but that they are really, really dumb.

The evidence emerged thanks to the incompetence of Sputnik, the Russian online news and radio service established by the government controlled news agency, Rossiya Segodnya.

The documents that Wikileaks unloaded recently have been emails out of the account of John Podesta, the chairman of Clinton’s election campaign. Almost as soon as the pilfered documents emerged, Sputnik was all over them and rapidly found (or probably already knew about before the Wikileaks dump) a purportedly incriminating email from Blumenthal.

The email was amazing—it linked Boogie Man Blumenthal, Podesta and the topic of conservative political fevered dreams, Benghazi. This, it seemed, was the smoking gun finally proving Clinton bore total responsibility for the terrorist attack on the American outpost in Libya in 2012. Sputnik even declared that the email might be the “October surprise” that could undermine Clinton’s campaign.

To understand the full importance of the story—and how much Putin and his Kremlin cronies must have been dancing with delight—I have to quote the top few paragraphs:

In a major revelation from the second batch of WikiLeaks emails from Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta it was learned that Hillary’s top confidante Sidney Blumenthal believed that the investigation into Benghazi was legitimate because it was “preventable” and the result of State Department negligence.

In an email titled “The Truth” from Hillary’s top confidante Sidney Blumenthal, the adviser writing to undisclosed recipients said that “one important point that has been universally acknowledged by nine previous reports about Benghazi: The attack was almost certainly preventable” in what may turn out to be the big October surprise from the WikiLeaks released of emails hacked from the account of Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta.

Then came the money quote: “Clinton was in charge of the State Department, and it failed to protect U.S. personnel at an American consulate in Libya. If the GOP wants to raise that as a talking point against her, it is legitimate,” said Blumenthal, putting to rest the Democratic Party talking point that the investigation into Clinton’s management of the State Department at the time of the attack was nothing more than a partisan witch hunt.

Those words sounded really, really familiar. Really familiar. Like, so familiar they struck me as something I wrote. Because they were something I wrote.

The Russians were quoting two sentences from a 10,000 word piece I wrote for Newsweek, which Blumenthal had emailed to Podesta. There was no mistaking that Blumenthal was citing Newsweek—the magazine’s name and citations for photographs appeared throughout the attached article. The Russians had carefully selected the “of course” paragraph, which mentions there were legitimate points of criticism regarding Clinton and Benghazi, all of which had been acknowledged in nine reports about the terror attack and by the former Secretary of State herself. But that was hardly the point of the story, “Benghazi Biopsy: A Comprehensive Guide to One of America’s Worst Political Outrages.” The piece is about the obscene politicization of the assault that killed four Americans, and the article slammed the Republican Benghazi committee which was engaged in a political show trial disguised as a Congressional investigation—the tenth inquiry into the tragedy.

Here is the real summation of my article, which the Russians failed to quote: “The historical significance of this moment can hardly be overstated, and it seems many Republicans, Democrats and members of the media don’t fully understand the magnitude of what is taking place. The awesome power of government—one that allows officials to pore through almost anything they demand and compel anyone to talk or suffer the shame of taking the Fifth Amendment—has been unleashed for purely political purposes. It is impossible to review what the Benghazi committee has done as anything other than taxpayer-funded political research of the opposing party’s leading candidate for president. Comparisons from America’s past are rare. Richard Nixon’s attempts to use the IRS to investigate his perceived enemies come to mind. So does Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting during the 1950s, with reckless accusations of treason leveled at members of the State Department, military generals and even the secretary of the Army…The consequences, however, are worse than the manipulation of the electoral process. By using Benghazi for political advantage, the Republicans have communicated to global militants that, through even limited attacks involving relatively few casualties, they can potentially influence the direction of American elections.”

Of course, this might be seen as just an opportunity to laugh at the incompetence of the Russian hackers and government press—once they realized their error, Sputnik took the article down. But then things got even more bizarre.

Donald Trump took the bait and ran with it, reading the article at a rally in Pennsylvania, inciting the crowd to start chanting “Lock her up!”  He’s been citing this story on the trail ever since.

This is not funny. It is terrifying. The Russians engage in a sloppy disinformation effort and, before the day is out, the Republican nominee for president is standing on a stage reciting the manufactured story as truth. How did this happen? Who in the Trump campaign was feeding him falsehoods straight from the Kremlin? (The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment).

The Russians have been obtaining American emails and now are presenting complete misrepresentations of them—falsifying them—in hopes of setting off a cascade of events that might change the outcome of the presidential election. The big question, of course, is why are the Russians working so hard to damage Clinton and, in the process, aid Donald Trump? That is a topic for another time.

The bottom line is that the Republican candidate for President of the United States has been spouting Russian propaganda and his red-blooded America Fuck Yeah supporters have been eating it up.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

In The Tank

If Hillary Clinton loses, blame the media.

Thomas Patterson in the Los Angeles Times:

My analysis of media coverage in the four weeks surrounding both parties’ national conventions found that her use of a private email server while secretary of State and other alleged scandal references accounted for 11% of Clinton’s news coverage in the top five television networks and six major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. Excluding neutral reports, 91% of the email-related news reports were negative in tone. Then, there were the references to her character and personal life, which accounted for 4% of the coverage; that was 92% negative.

While Trump declared open warfare on the mainstream media — and of late they have cautiously responded in kind — it has been Clinton who has suffered substantially more negative news coverage throughout nearly the whole campaign.

Few presidential candidates have been more fully prepared to assume the duties of the presidency than is Clinton. Yet, her many accomplishments as first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of State barely surfaced in the news coverage of her candidacy at any point in the campaign. She may as well as have spent those years baking cookies.

How about her foreign, defense, social or economic policies? Don’t bother looking. Not a single one of Clinton’s policy proposals accounted for even 1% of her convention-period coverage; collectively, her policy stands accounted for a mere 4% of it. But she might be thankful for that: News reports about her stances were 71% negative to 29% positive in tone. Trump was quoted more often about her policies than she was. Trump’s claim that Clinton “created ISIS,” for example, got more news attention than her announcement of how she would handle Islamic State.

I also looked at the year before the 2016 primaries began, and even then Clinton had a 2-to-1 ratio of bad press to good press. There was only one month in the whole of 2015 where the tone of her coverage on balance was not in the red — and even then it barely touched positive territory.

During the primaries, her coverage was again in negative territory and again less positive than Trump’s. After the conventions got underway and Trump got embroiled in a testy exchange with the parents of a slain Muslim U.S. soldier, the tone of his coverage nosedived and her coverage looked rosy by comparison. But even then it was not glowing. Her convention-period news coverage was 56% negative to 44% positive.


Judging from their stories, journalists rate the emails as being a highly important and very serious issue. They cover it heavily and with damning tone. When 90% or more of the coverage of a subject is negative, the verdict is in. Even good news gets turned to her disadvantage. For example, when the FBI announced that her emails did not violate the law, the Los Angeles Times ran a story focused on Trump’s response, quoting him as saying, “This is one of the most crooked politicians in history…. We have a rigged system, folks.”

In today’s hypercompetitive media environment, journalists find it difficult to resist controversies. Political scientist W. Lance Bennett explored this phenomenon around Trump’s 2011 allegation that President Obama was not a native-born American. Trump’s “birther” statements were seized upon by cable outlets and stayed in the headlines and on newscasts for days. Veteran CNN correspondent Candy Crowley even interviewed Trump, who was then not a political figure at all. She justified it by saying on air: “There comes a point where you can’t ignore something, not because it’s entertaining …. The question was, ‘Is he driving the conversation?’ And he was.” In truth, the news media were driving the conversation, as they have with Clinton’s emails.

Decades ago, the Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press concluded that reporters routinely fail to provide a “comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s events in the context that gives them some meaning.” Whatever else might be concluded about the coverage of Clinton’s emails, context has been largely missing. Some stories spelled out how the merging of private and official emails by government officials was common practice. There were also some, though fewer, that tried to assess the harm, if any, that resulted from her use of a private server. As for Clinton’s policy proposals and presidential qualifications, they’ve been completely lost in the glare of damaging headlines and sound bites.

So if we end up with a president who is vaingloriously proud of his ignorance and treats the Constitution like one of his contractors, it will be in large part because the media was far more interested in getting a story that boosted ratings so they could charge more for ads for boner pills.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Paul Krugman asks, “Why are the media objectively pro-Trump?”

Because they are, at this point. It’s not even false equivalence: compare the amount of attention given to the Clinton Foundation despite absence of any evidence of wrongdoing, and attention given to Trump Foundation, which engaged in more or less open bribery — but barely made a dent in news coverage. Clinton was harassed endlessly over failure to give press conferences, even though she was doing lots of interviews; Trump violated decades of tradition by refusing to release his taxes, amid strong suspicion that he is hiding something; the press simply dropped the subject.

Brian Beutler argues that it’s about protecting the media’s own concerns, namely access. But I don’t think that works. It doesn’t explain why the Clinton emails were a never-ending story but the disappearance of millions of George W. Bush emails wasn’t, or for that matter Jeb Bush’s deletion of records; the revelation that Colin Powell did, indeed, offer HRC advice on how to have private email the way he did hasn’t even been reported by some major news organizations.

And I don’t see how the huffing and puffing about the foundation — which “raised questions”, but where the media were completely unwilling to accept the answers they found — fits into this at all.

No, it’s something special about Clinton Rules. I don’t really understand it. But it has the feeling of a high school clique bullying a nerdy classmate because it’s the cool thing to do.

And as I feared, it looks as if people who cried wolf about non-scandals are now engaged in an all-out effort to dig up or invent dirt to justify their previous Clinton hostility.

Hard to believe that such pettiness could have horrifying consequences. But I am very scared.

I know that the media seems to think that they have an obligation to report “objectively,” that they must not be seen as favoring one candidate over the other.  So they melt it down to trying to be fair and end up being little more than an echo chamber for both sides.  It’s as if they are afraid to tell truth from fiction, reality from bullshit, and name the names of those who are doing a very good job of putting it over on the public.

It wouldn’t matter a whole lot if there wasn’t so much at stake.  Dr. Krugman talks about the campaign for president, but what about a subject that will go far beyond the election?  For instance, climate change.  It’s happening, it’s measurable and we’re already seeing the consequences of it in sea level rise (full disclosure; I live a quarter of a mile from the Atlantic Ocean at six feet above current sea level).  This past August was the hottest on record ever.  Now there are those who think it’s all a hoax dreamed up by people in the sandbag business.  Does the press have an obligation to report their views with the same gravity as those who know it’s happening?  Of course not.  They’re wrong, decidedly so, and just because they have an opinion doesn’t give them equal footing.  Climate change is a fact, and while you may disagree with that, it’s going to keep on changing no matter what you think.

So why does the media feel they have an obligation to present both sides equally?  Are they afraid they’re going to lose the approval of the climate nutsery?  Why do they feel that they have to put out a story that’s the equivalent of “Is The World Spherical or Flat — Views Differ”? Because they seem to believe that if they present both sides, even if one of them is total nonsense, that they will have done their duty and offended no one.  And no one will cancel their subscription or pull their ads.

The same thing happens on cable TV.  Spokespeople for a campaign will come on one of the shows and spout their party line, tell whoppers of lies — the latest crock of shit being that it was Hillary Clinton who started the birther movement in 2008 — and go unchallenged by the host who is either unaware of the falsehood (in which case they need to get out of the business) or are afraid of calling them out and risk losing them for future shows or even worse, being unfriended by them on Facebook.  It gets to the point of beyond comic: “Hillary Clinton shot JFK.”  “Well, we’ll have to leave it there.  Thanks for coming by; always a pleasure.”

Josh Marshall has a very thoughtful (and long but well worth the time) piece on the subject of journalistic balance and the tortured explanation by Liz Spayd, the Public Editor of the New York Times, on how that paper is answering the claim that it has been taking trouble to Hillary Clinton for non-stories and drumming up non-scandals to fever pitch while letting Donald Trump off the hook, as Dr. Krugman notes above.  Mr. Marshall concludes,

What this debate all comes down to is that the imperative for balance and the imperative for accuracy and completeness, what’s true and what’s not are inevitably in tension. Precisely how it’s solved or how that tension is dealt with is a very good debate to be having. (I would say the goal is not balance but fundamental fairness and honesty with readers and a constant effort to interrogate ones own biases.) But not to recognize the tension and not to see how some candidates push that tension to the point of crisis simply shows you’re in denial or have a monumental lack of self-awareness about the journalistic craft. That pretty much captures Spayd’s column.

There will always be a struggle between being balanced and being truthful.  The truth hurts, but it’s a lot better than leaving the reader/viewer with the empty feeling that they’re no more educated than they were when they started.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Same Story, Different Decade

Paul Krugman on what the press and its enablers are doing to Hillary Clinton.

Americans of a certain age who follow politics and policy closely still have vivid memories of the 2000 election — bad memories, and not just because the man who lost the popular vote somehow ended up in office. For the campaign leading up to that end game was nightmarish too.

You see, one candidate, George W. Bush, was dishonest in a way that was unprecedented in U.S. politics. Most notably, he proposed big tax cuts for the rich while insisting, in raw denial of arithmetic, that they were targeted for the middle class. These campaign lies presaged what would happen during his administration — an administration that, let us not forget, took America to war on false pretenses.

Yet throughout the campaign most media coverage gave the impression that Mr. Bush was a bluff, straightforward guy, while portraying Al Gore — whose policy proposals added up, and whose critiques of the Bush plan were completely accurate — as slippery and dishonest. Mr. Gore’s mendacity was supposedly demonstrated by trivial anecdotes, none significant, some of them simply false. No, he never claimed to have invented the internet. But the image stuck.

And right now I and many others have the sick, sinking feeling that it’s happening again.

I would like to give the press the benefit of the doubt and assume that they — the New York Times, the Associated Press, the cable outlets — don’t have it in for Hillary Clinton; at least consciously.  I am sure that they will all swear on a stack of Edward R. Murrow biographies that they are doing their level best to be objective; or at least what they consider to be objective, which is to say that “both sides do it” and that if Donald Trump is a grifter and a con artist, Hillary Clinton can’t be trusted with a BlackBerry and that’s the same thing.

That’s not malicious journalism, it’s just lazy.  There’s plenty of evidence of Mr. Trump’s mendacity and bullshit — he’s built his empire on it — and yet they’re covering him like he’s a Kardashian, not someone to sit in the same office as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt.  Meanwhile, everything Hillary Clinton does is suspect, and there’s a full-blown right-wing industry that readily supplies the rumors, the innuendos, and the fiction to knock her down.

But lazy journalism is worse than the deliberate lies of the Hate-Hillary industry.  They have an agenda, but the press has a duty to report the facts and the truth.  As Dr. Krugman concludes,

…the best ways to judge a candidate’s character are to look at what he or she has actually done, and what policies he or she is proposing. Mr. Trump’s record of bilking students, stiffing contractors and more is a good indicator of how he’d act as president; Mrs. Clinton’s speaking style and body language aren’t. George W. Bush’s policy lies gave me a much better handle on who he was than all the up-close-and-personal reporting of 2000, and the contrast between Mr. Trump’s policy incoherence and Mrs. Clinton’s carefulness speaks volumes today.

In other words, focus on the facts. America and the world can’t afford another election tipped by innuendo.

The only problem with that is that it’s a lot easier to run with the innuendo and make it to Happy Hour than it is to actually do some real reporting.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sunday Reading

Trump and the Truth — The New Yorker begins a series on Donald Trump’s touchy relationship with the truth.

“The facts aren’t known because the media won’t report on them,” Donald Trump declared during his immigration speech in Phoenix on Wednesday. A few hours earlier, the Republican nominee had been in Mexico City, where he had held a joint press conference with the Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, and lauded Mexican-Americans as “amazing people . . . just beyond reproach.” In Phoenix, flanked by American flags, he struck a different tone. Trump warned the crowd that if Clinton were elected, America would be inundated by a new wave of illegal immigration that would result in “thousands of more violent, horrible crimes, and total chaos and lawlessness.”

Again and again in his Presidential campaign, Trump has issued sweeping assertions about how immigrants are “bringing crime” to America. Wednesday offered only the latest, and loudest, example. Examining these claims is instructive, not for what they tell us about Trump but for what they reveal about immigrants, whose relationship to crime is greatly misunderstood. If you live in a city that has become less dangerous in recent decades, a growing body of evidence suggests that you actually have immigrants to thank.

When Trump kicked off his campaign, last year, he accused Mexico of sending “rapists” and criminals to America. This was a patently outrageous claim, and there was no evidence behind it. According to Robert Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard and the former scientific director of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, communities with high concentrations of immigrants do not suffer from outsized levels of violence. The opposite is the case. In his exhaustively researched 2012 book, “Great American City,” Sampson noted that, in Chicago, “increases in immigration and language diversity over the decade of the 1990s predicted decreases in neighborhood homicide rates.” Other scholars have turned up similar findings. In 2013, a team of researchers published a paper on Los Angeles that found that “concentrations of immigrants in neighborhoods are linked to significant reductions in crime.” A 2014 study examining a hundred and fifty-seven metropolitan areas in the United States found that violent crime tended to decrease when the population of foreign-born residents rose.

One reason for this may be that immigrants have helped revitalize formerly desolate urban neighborhoods, starting businesses and lowering the prevalence of vacant buildings, where violence can take root. Another possible factor is that, contrary to Trump’s bigoted rhetoric, many immigrants are ambitious strivers, who are highly motivated to support their families and make a better life for their children. Undocumented immigrants may also be more fearful than legal residents of attracting police attention, which could get them deported. Whatever the answer, the research helps make sense of the fact that, during the nineteen-nineties, the foreign-born population in the U.S. grew by more than fifty per cent, and cities such as New York, El Paso, and San Diego, where many of these newcomers settled, did not become cauldrons of violence. They became safer. While numerous factors may have contributed to this—most notably, a stronger economy—it is now widely agreed that immigration played a role, too.

In his statements and speeches, Trump has often qualified his language by distinguishing between documented and undocumented immigrants. In Phoenix, he contrasted the “dangerous criminal aliens” who ruthlessly victimized Americans with legitimate, law-abiding immigrants who obeyed the rules. Data isolating the level of crime among undocumented immigrants are hard to come by, in part because, many suspect, undocumented-immigrant communities underreport crime, for fear of bringing law enforcement to their doors. Sampson acknowledged this in an e-mail to me recently, but he countered that one felony—murder—resists underreporting. And, in the nineteen-nineties, he noted, the murder rate fell dramatically in America’s cities, even as the flow of documented and undocumented immigrants surged. “The homicides committed by illegal aliens in the United States are reflected in the data just like for everyone else,” he wrote to me. “The bottom line is that as immigrants poured into the country, homicides plummeted.”

To point these things out is not to deny the tragedy of any individual killing or crime. In June, the Boston Globe published a deeply reported story showing that, among three hundred and twenty-three foreign-born criminals released in New England between 2008 and 2012, nearly one-third went on to commit new offenses after being released, including rape and attempted murder. Based on a three-year review of court records and police logs, the Globe article raised legitimate questions about how forthright immigration officials have been about the issue. Trump cited the Globe’s story in his Phoenix speech, without acknowledging any of its nuance. Some of the criminals the Globe wrote about had entered the United States legally, and had been released because the government cannot detain immigrants indefinitely and because the countries they came from refused to take them back. The Globe also reported that, in the past year, almost sixty per cent of the people deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement were convicted criminals. Trump skirted around these facts, assailing President Obama and Hillary Clinton for “surrendering the safety of the American people to open borders” and promising that the mayhem he described would end if he were elected. “The crime will stop,” he vowed.

On the few occasions when journalists have challenged him directly on his incendiary claims about immigration, Trump has resorted to bullying and denial. “If you look at the statistics of people coming . . . you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything coming in illegally in this country, it’s mind-boggling!” Trump declared during an interview on CNN last year, citing as evidence a 2014 story published by Fusion that investigated the prevalence of sexual assaults against migrant women and girls en route to the United States. When Don Lemon, the CNN host, responded by pointing out that the Fusion story was about migrants who were raped, not hordes of criminals crossing the border, Trump snapped, “Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don! . . . Who’s doing the raping?” A few days later, Trump was interviewed by the NBC News correspondent Katy Tur, who pointed out to him that the incarceration rate for both documented Mexican immigrants and undocumented immigrants over all was lower than that for native-born Americans. “It’s a wrong statistic,” Trump insisted. “Take a look at all the crime that’s being committed.” When Tur noted that the research “does not match what you’re saying,” Trump replied, “Don’t be naïve. You’re a very naïve person.” (One widely cited 2008 study from the Public Policy Institute of California found that the incarceration rate for foreign-born adults in the state prison system was two hundred and ninety-seven per hundred thousand in the population. For U.S.-born adults, the figure was eight hundred and thirteen per hundred thousand.)

When it comes to the threat that immigrants pose, Trump has championed perceptions over facts. Here, alas, he may be on to something. One of the more striking findings of Robert Sampson’s work has been that the “perceived disorder” of a neighborhood correlated positively with the prevalence of Latino residents, regardless of the actual level of crime. Trump certainly perceives disorder, and, with his false claims and invented statistics, he is contributing to the perception of it, especially among people who have few encounters with actual Hispanic immigrants. A recent study by a Gallup economist found that Trump’s supporters appear to be concentrated in segregated communities, far away from the Mexican border.

For more than a year, Trump has used the spotlight on him to smear and malign tens of millions of people who have made the communities they inhabit safer places for people of all backgrounds to raise children or pursue their dreams. They’ll be gone, he says—he’s building a wall. Americans deserve to be reminded that these ideas aren’t just frightening in their intolerance. If your concern is public safety, they’re backward.

Pressing for Trouble — Paul Glastris on the scandal mongering of Hillary Clinton.

Over the last two weeks, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has taken a hit in the polls, much of it pretty clearly due to aggressive press investigations involving her relationship with the Clinton Foundation when she was Secretary of State. Even Hillary fans should see that these investigations are warranted. After all, Clinton is running for the most powerful office in the world. While she was Secretary of State, her husband was overseeing a $2 billion a year charity. That charity took in donations from foreign governments and individuals with international interests. These facts raise legitimate questions. Did donors to the Foundation get special access to the secretary and the department as a result of their donations? If they did get special access, did they receive any favors? Did Hillary or her staff do anything illegal, unethical, or contrary to U.S. interests or administration policy?

The good news is that as a result of these investigations we can now answer those questions pretty definitively: no, no, and no. The bad news is that the press doesn’t seem to want to take “no” for an answer, even if the answer is based on the evidence of its own reporting.

Consider the story in today’s New York Times by Eric Lichtblau based on a new batch of emails released by the conservative group Judicial Watch as part of its lawsuit. The emails show that Doug Band, then with an arm of the Clinton Foundation, asked Huma Abedin, a top aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to help him procure special diplomatic passports for himself and two other Clinton Foundation staffers. Band also asked for a private meeting between Secretary Clinton and Dow CEO Andrew Liveris, a Clinton Foundation donor. These emails, writes Lichtblau, raise “new questions about whether people tied to the Clinton Foundation received special access at the department.”

The reporting in the piece itself, however, doesn’t so much raise new questions as answer old ones. As Lichtblau explains, Band wanted the diplomatic passports because he and his colleagues were about to accompany Bill Clinton on an emergency mission to North Korea to negotiate the release of two American journalists (as a former president, Clinton already had such a passport). In the end, State didn’t issue special passports to the Foundation staffers, despite the risks they were taking, because doing so would have been contrary to Department rules. Liveris did get a short meeting with Mrs. Clinton for a perfectly valid reason: he had offered to let Mr. Clinton use his private plane to fly to Pyongyang.

Other stories on the Clinton Foundation over the last two weeks fit the same basic pattern: the facts dug up by the investigation disprove the apparent thesis of the investigation. Last week, for instance, the Associated Press shook up the political world with an enterprising investigation showing that more than half of the 154 private sector individuals Secretary Clinton met or talked with during her first two years at State had donated to the Clinton Foundation, ether directly or though their companies or groups. That “extraordinary proportion,” said the AP, indicates “her possible ethics challenges if elected president.”

But aside from the AP’s questionable math—the 154 meetings were gleaned from Clinton’s calendar, and no one seriously doubts that over two years she met with far more private sector individuals than that—the story’s own reporting undermined the case that anything unethical occurred. As its main example, the story cites meetings with and calls on behalf of Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunis, whose Grameen Bank had contributed to the Foundation. Yet Yunis is not some shady financier who gave money to the Foundation to gain access to the secretary. He’s a Nobel Prize-winning pioneer of “micro-lending” to the world’s poor whom Clinton has known and worked with for 30 years. And the calls she made in support of Yunis were part of an international effort to keep the Bangladeshi government from forcing the beloved humanitarian out of Grameen on trumped-up charges. Other examples in the piece of donors getting “access” are similarly benign (one of them was the Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel).

The same passive-aggressive quality pervades all the recent stories about the Clinton Foundation. There is the big LA Times investigation about how Doug Band tried to get a State Department meeting for a donor, a Nigerian-based Lebanese billionaire. Though possibly sketchy, the billionaire had on-the-ground knowledge of the political machinations in Beirut, so was probably worth talking to, but in any event the meeting never occurred. There is Politico’s deep dive into the hitherto untold story about how the federal government made payments to the Clinton Foundation for IT equipment and staff.   While strongly suggesting that the payments were highly questionable, the authors concede that their investigation “does not reveal anything illegal.” Indeed, the payments were from a program Congress created more than half a century ago specifically to fund the work of ex-presidents, money every ex-president has taken advantage of, and the piece offers ample evidence from documents obtained from the General Services Administration that the GSA’s bureaucrats and the Foundation’s staff carefully followed the rules.

Thanks to the publishing of these investigations—most of which took many months of dogged effort to produce—we now have a tremendous amount of granular information about the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with the State Department and with the federal government generally. In virtually every case we know of, it’s clear that Hillary and her staff behaved appropriately.

Yet instead of accepting the evidence of their own investigations, much of the mainstream media expresses the attitude that these are still wide open questions. In its recent lead editorial calling for the Clintons to cut their ties to the Foundation immediately (the Clintons have said they’ll do so if she wins), The New York Times concedes that the latest batch of emails does not “so far” show that Hillary gave any special favors to Clinton donors while at state. On the cable shows, even the few journalists who acknowledge the lack of any evidence that Hillary and her staff did anything untoward feel the need to insist that the next batch of emails could prove otherwise.

And of course in theory it could. But as Nancy LeTourneau has observed, there is phrase for those who insist on keeping a controversy going long after enough facts are in to draw reasonable conclusions: “Merchants of Doubt.” The label comes from the book about a loose group of scientists who helped corporate and conservative political interests sow doubt in the public’s mind regarding the certainty of the science linking tobacco to lung cancer and fossil fuels to global warming. It’s the same strategy creationists use when they lobby school boards about gaps in the fossil record and how it’s important and fair-minded to “teach the controversy” about evolution.

Another way of looking at it is that the press is beginning to treat the Clinton Foundation story the way the Republican still treat Benghazi. The legitimate questions surrounding that incident—What were the precipitating events that lead to the deaths of four diplomats? What might the federal government have done differently to prevent it?—were basically answered when the first after-action press investigations and the 2012 Accountability Review Board Report were published. Keeping the controversy alive with half a dozen more congressional investigations was just a way for Republicans to rough up Clinton.

The GOP at least had an obvious political motive for refusing to admit the obvious on Benghazi. Why the mainstream press is refusing to concede the facts of its own investigations on Hillary and the Clinton Foundation is not so clear. But unless it stops that behavior and starts speaking honestly, and soon, there’s a very real chance it could throw the election to Donald Trump.

All The News That Gives You Fits — Charlie Pierce on the New York Times’ chin-stroking over the Clinton coverage.

Oh, for the love of god, mother Times. Are you freaking kidding me?

It’s long past the point where many of our major news publications be sent to the dogtrack with their names pinned to their sweaters, at least as far as the Clintons are concerned. Right now, there is substantial evidence that many of them will print anything as long as they can wedge “Clinton,” “questions” and “e-mails” into a headline. Of course, if Hillary Rodham Clinton would just hold a press conference, at which every question would feature those three words in some order or another, then we’d all turn to discussing the comprehensive mental health plan that she released to thundering silence on Monday when most of the press was in an Anthony Weiner frenzy. Yes, and I am the Tsar of all the Russias.

But this latest iteration of The Clinton Rules is probably the most egregious one yet. From the Times:

A top aide to Hillary Clinton at the State Department agreed to try to obtain a special diplomatic passport for an adviser to former President Bill Clinton in 2009, according to emails released Thursday, raising new questions about whether people tied to the Clinton Foundation received special access at the department.

That sounds bad. Was the guy trying to smuggle hash in a diplomatic pouch? Visiting Thai brothels in a government jet?

The request by the adviser, Douglas J. Band, who started one arm of the Clintons’ charitable foundation, was unusual, and the State Department never issued the passport. Only department employees and others with diplomatic status are eligible for the special passports, which help envoys facilitate travel, officials said.

Well, that’s that, then. Let’s turn to the sports section and see how the Mets are doing. Wait. What?

Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign said that there was nothing untoward about the request and that it related to an emergency trip that Mr. Clinton took to North Korea in 2009 to negotiate the release of two American journalists. Mrs. Clinton has long denied that donors had any special influence at the State Department.

Jesus H. Christ on Dancing With The Stars, that’s what this is about? Bill Clinton’s mission to get two American journalists out the hoosegow of The World’s Craziest Place? Wasn’t that a triumph? Weren’t we all happy about it? Hell, this was so surreptitious and “questionable” that HRC even wrote about it in one of her books.

I thought the bombshell in Tiger Beat On The Potomac about how Bill Clinton questionably availed himself of services to which he was legally entitled as an ex-president was going to be this week’s most prominent parody of investigative journalism. (After all, it got to drop the ominous “taxpayer money” into the conversation right next to “private server,” which one of the endless parade of dingbats shilling for the Trump campaign used on CNN just this morning.) But this story puts that one in the ha’penny place, as my grandmother used to say.

Consider how it is constructed—to believe that there is even any smoke here, let alone any fire, you have to believe that the Clinton Foundation was somehow shady in its dealings with HRC’s State Department, which is assuming a lot of actual facts not in evidence. That enables you to believe that an unsuccessful attempt to arrange diplomatic passports for what ultimately was a successful mission of mercy is proof of said shadiness. It also forces you to loan your journalistic credibility to a monkeyhouse like Judicial Watch.

This is crazy. This makes the way Dave O’Brien used to run the ball for Joe McCarthy look like Seymour Hersh on My Lai.

In related developments, The Washington Post revealed Thursday that David Bossie, head of Citizens United and noted stalker of cancer patients, is now part of the high command working to elect El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago. There are now no rats left unfcked in that operation, and it’s going to be damned hard to get a table for Happy Hour Friday night in the cocktail lounge of the Mena Airport.

Bonus Track: James Fallows on the same subject.

Doonesbury — Same old song.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Donald Trump has banished the Washington Post from his campaign because he thinks they treat him unfairly.

Donald Trump said Monday that he was revoking The Washington Post’s press credentials to cover his campaign after the publication gave him “incredibly inaccurate” coverage.


Trump had suggested earlier in the day on Fox News that President Obama’s response to the worst mass shooting in U.S. history showed he was either secretly working with terrorists or else naive about terror threats. The Washington Post’s headline on a story on the comment read, “Donald Trump seems to connect President Obama to Orlando shooting.”

“Donald Trump’s decision to revoke The Washington Post’s press credentials is nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press. When coverage doesn’t correspond to what the candidate wants it to be, then a news organization is banished,” The Post’s Executive Editor Martin Baron said in a statement.

“The Post will continue to cover Donald Trump as it has all along – honorably, honestly, accurately, energetically, and unflinchingly. We’re proud of our coverage, and we’re going to keep at it,” Baron said.

There have been a slew of reporters and publications that have been denied access to Trump’s campaign events, including The New York Times, BuzzFeed News, Telemundo, Politico and The Des Moines Register.

I can’t help but think of the parallel between this and gun control.  Those in favor of anyone and everyone having a gun say that banning a certain type of gun won’t do anything because if people really want a gun, they’ll get one.  Does Mr. Trump think the Washington Post or any other organization will stop reporting on him because he has a fit of pique?

Well, one could only hope.

As for the story itself about Trump implying that President Obama was in cahoots with the terrorist; well, that’s exactly what he was dog-whistling to his base.  He just got busted for it by the Post, that’s all.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mic Drop

Charlie Pierce peered in to some of the Sunday shows and watches with wonder and trepidation when the press is going to start doing their effing job.

…[T]his week’s House Cup goes to my man Chuck Todd, who always has been the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Todd had He, Trump over for a chat and, after a few minutes of stunning incoherence on the subject of election law, we were treated to this amazing moment of television.

TODD: Wait a minute. Let me stop you there. You just said, “Businesses might pay a little bit more.” You just said, “Business might pay a little bit more, but we’re going to get ’em a massive tax cut.” You just said it within ten words.

TRUMP: No, no. I didn’t say it. Excuse me. I said they might have to pay a little bit more than my proposal, Chuck. I said they might have—

TODD: Oh, your proposal. Okay. I just wanted to get that clear.

TRUMP: —yeah, than my proposal.

TODD: Fair enough.

TRUMP: I’m not talking about more than they’re paying now.

TODD: Got you.

TRUMP: We’re the highest taxed nation in the world. Our businesses pay more taxes than any businesses in the world. That’s why companies are leaving. So they may have to pay a little bit more than my proposal, is what I mean. I assume you knew that. I assume you know that.

TODD: Got you. Okay. No, no, no, no. I just wanted to clear that up.

TRUMP: Okay, good. Good, I’m glad you cleared it up—

Forget that little pat on the head there at the end. My man Chuck Todd had He, Trump pinned. The way you know that is that He, Trump had to resort to a barefaced non-fact about how we are “the highest-taxed nation in the world.” (This is not within an area code of the truth. Criminy, even PolitiFact noticed.) And what do we get for pushback? “Fair enough” and two “gotchas.”

This is going to be a real crisis for elite political journalism from now until November, perhaps the deepest crisis elite political journalism has faced since the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and that one didn’t turn out well at all. The Republican Party is about to nominate an utterly truthless fellow who doesn’t know how much he doesn’t know and is prepared to lie his way past everything he doesn’t know anyway. I’m afraid that elite political journalism is so wedded to “balance” that it is in no way prepared to cope with a post-reality candidate. (Professor Krugman shares this concern.) “Fair enough” and “gotcha” are not appropriate answers to the assertion by a candidate that he plans to heal the national economy by setting up a roulette wheel and two blackjack tables in the Department of the Treasury.

If hope is not a plan, then bluster and bombast are even less of one. Elite political journalism has a greater responsibility to the Republic than “balance” or “objectivity.” This is going to be a long six months.

This is the same Chuck Todd who told America that it’s not his job to correct misstatements by candidates or mouthpieces.  Which makes him about as relevant and as useful as the guy holding the mic on the Home Shopping Network.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Unequal Treatment

Predictions of violence at political rallies have been a part of the scene for a while now, and on Saturday the New York Times went in to painful detail to point it out.

In foreboding conversations across the political world this past year, a bipartisan chorus warned that the 2016 presidential campaign was teetering on the edge of violence.

The anger from both sides was so raw, they concluded — from supporters of Donald J. Trump who are terrified they are losing their country and from protesters who fear he is leading the nation down a dark road of hate — that a dreaded moment was starting to look inevitable. “I don’t see where that anger goes,” the historian Heather Cox Richardson predicted a few weeks ago, “except into violence.”

This weekend it finally arrived.

Ah, yes, it only took them to the second paragraph to get to the great equivocator — both sides do it — before launching into a description of Friday night’s melee that canceled Mr. Trump’s rally in Chicago.

Despite the fact that what remains of the GOP field is laying this squarely at the feet of Mr. Trump — of course they have their motives for blaming him — it is the mantra of the media to play the objectivity card by saying that both the Democrats and the Republicans are angry and therefore the inevitable fisticuffs or worse will break out.

Now both Republican and Democratic leaders are predicting a long, grim and pugnacious phase of the presidential race.

“I’ve gotta believe it’s only gonna get worse,” said William M. Daley, the son of Chicago’s famed mayor, Richard Daley, who presided over the violent 1968 Democratic convention. “Both sides are fueling this,” he added.

The problem with that is that so far no one has reported any scuffles at a Bernie Sanders rally.  Hillary Clinton hasn’t ordered her security detail to “get ’em out” when a person heckled her.  And if anyone seriously thinks that somewhere in some boiler room in Brooklyn or Burlington there’s a plan to send out infiltrators to disrupt Trump’s rallies, I have a few conspiracy theories I’d like to sell them at bargain prices.

It’s always a safe retreat to blame both sides so that that reporters make it sound so objective and boil it down to a false equivalency.  It makes it easier for the bullies to say “It all started when he hit me back.”

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sunday Reading

Now What? — Suzy Khimm in The New Republic on where the Religious Right goes now.

It’s been a rough stretch lately for Christian social conservatives, whose nightmare came to life this past summer with the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage in Obergefell vs. Hodges. But the annual Values Voter Summit kicked off this past weekend in Washington with shouts of jubilation, as activists celebrated the unexpected news that House Speaker John Boehner would be resigning amid the fight over social conservatives’ effort to defund Planned Parenthood or force a government shutdown. “Yes!” one man shouted above the deafening cheers and applause on Friday morning after Senator Marco Rubio interrupted his address to announce Boehner’s exit from the podium. “Amen!” shouted another.

Later, on Friday evening, another packed room at the Omni Shoreham would erupt once again when Kim Davis, the defiant country clerk from Kentucky, took the stage to accept an award for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “I am only one,” Davis told the crowd in her brief remarks, her voice rising to a shout. “But we are many!”

It was a pent-up primal scream that these Christian culture-warriors have long been waiting to unleash. While these triumphal moments may have been fleeting—Boehner almost surely won’t be replaced as speaker by a hardcore social conservative, and Davis’s stand has done nothing concrete to advance the cause of religious liberties—the urge to cheer for something was easy to understand; right about now, evangelicals will take whatever victories they can get. Ever since the religious right’s political power arguably peaked in 2004, when President George W. Bush and Karl Rove made gay-marriage bans a centerpiece of their re-election strategy, social conservatives have watched helplessly as their “family values” agenda fizzled, as the tide increasingly swam against them on gay marriage, and as Tea Partiers replaced them as the most coveted constituency for Republican candidates to court. While they’ve had great success in enacting abortion restrictions in many states, they’ve seen popular support for much of their once-ambitious policy agenda erode.

Despite the hallelujahs, what this year’s summit ended up highlighting was not the resurgent power of Christian conservatives in the Republican Party, but how much their influence on the policy debate has diminished outside of the issue of abortion. As usual, most of the major GOP presidential contenders—even the unlikely figure of Donald Trumpcame courting the crowd of 2,700 who’d registered for the event. But they offered little besides effusive praise for Kim Davis and utterly vague—if not utterly unrealistic—promises to champion religious liberties in the White House. When the summit-goers left Washington to scatter back to their hometowns across America, they left with no clear idea of what to fight for next on gay marriage—or how.

Get To Know Jorge Ramos — William Finnegan at The New Yorker profiles the Univision anchor and best-known journalist you’ve never heard of.

When Jorge Ramos travels in Middle America, nobody recognizes him—until somebody does. Ramos is the evening-news co-anchor on Univision, the country’s largest Spanish-language TV network, a job he has held since 1986. A few weeks ago, I was on a flight with him from Chicago to Dubuque. Ramos, who is fifty-seven, is slim, not tall, with white hair and an unassuming demeanor. Wearing jeans, a gray sports coat, and a blue open-collared shirt, he went unremarked. But then, as he disembarked, a fellow-passenger, a stranger in her thirties, drew him aside at the terminal gate, speaking rapidly in Spanish. Ramos bowed his head to listen. The woman was a teacher at a local technical college. Things in this part of Iowa were bad, she said. People were afraid to leave their houses. When they went to Walmart, they only felt comfortable going at night. Ramos nodded. Her voice was urgent. She wiped her eyes. He held her arm while she composed herself. The woman thanked him and rushed away.

“Did you hear that?” he asked, at the car-rental counter. “They only go out to Walmart at night.”

In an Italian restaurant on a sleepy corner in downtown Dubuque, a dishwasher came out from the kitchen toward the end of lunch to pay her respects. She, too, fought back tears as she thanked Ramos for his work. He asked her how long she had been in Iowa. Five years, she said. She was from Hidalgo, not far from Mexico City, Ramos’s home town. She hurried back to the kitchen.

“We have almost no political representation,” Ramos said. He meant Latinos in the United States. “Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz won’t defend the undocumented.”

“A Country for All,” Ramos’s most recent book—he has published eleven—is dedicated to “all undocumented immigrants.” He was trying to explain how a journalist finds himself in the role of advocate.

“We’re a young community,” he said. “You wouldn’t expect ABC, or any of the mainstream networks, to take a position on immigration, health care, anything. But at Univision it’s different. We are pro-immigrant. That’s our audience, and people depend on us. When we are better represented politically, that role for us will recede.”

Besides co-anchoring the nightly news, and cranking out books, Ramos hosts a Sunday-morning public-affairs show, “Al Punto” (“To the Point”), and writes a syndicated column; for the past two years, he has also hosted a weekly news-magazine show, “America with Jorge Ramos,” in English, on a fledgling network (a joint venture of Univision and ABC) called Fusion. (When Jon Stewart asked him, on “The Daily Show,” to account for his hyperactivity, Ramos said, “I’m an immigrant. So I just need to get a lot of jobs.”) His English is fluent, if strongly accented. His Spanish, particularly on-air, is carefully neutral—pan-Latino, not noticeably Mexican. Univision’s audience comes from many different countries, and the network broadcasts from Miami, where the most common form of Spanish is Cuban.

Ramos occupies a peculiar place in the American news media. He has won eight Emmys and an armload of journalism awards, covered every major story since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and interviewed every American President since George H. W. Bush. (He’s interviewed Barack Obama half a dozen times.) But his affiliation can work against him. In June, when he sent a handwritten letter to Donald Trump, who had just launched his Presidential campaign, requesting an interview, it was no dice. Univision had cut its business ties with Trump, including its telecasts of the Miss U.S.A. and Miss Universe beauty pageants, after Trump accused Mexico of sending “rapists” to the United States. Trump posted Ramos’s letter on Instagram, crowing that Univision was “begging” him for interviews. The letter included Ramos’s personal cell-phone number, which Ramos was then obliged to change. In the weeks that followed, Trump produced a stream of provocative remarks and proposals about Mexicans and immigration, giving the national immigration-policy debate the hardest edge it has had in generations. Now Ramos really wanted to interview him.

Signs Of The Times — Michael Paulson in the New York Times on the revival of the musical “Spring Awakening” with deaf actors.

Staging a Broadway show is always a three-dimensional chess game. But this “Spring Awakening,” which uses eight deaf actors, eight hearing actors and seven onstage musicians, has added another layer of complexity and sparked a burst of theatrical innovation.

Musicals, after all, are built around sound, and ordinarily it is a beat, a lyric or a spoken phrase that signals to an actor when to walk on or walk off, when to begin a speech or a song, when to start a step. But for this “Spring Awakening,” the director Michael Arden, the choreographer Spencer Liff and the actors themselves have devised an array of silent cues: hidden lights, coded gestures, timed touches and prompting props.

“Spring Awakening,” a darkly tragic drama about adolescent sexuality in a repressive community, was written as a play by Frank Wedekind in 1891, and then adapted into a rock musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik in 2006. The adaptation was a hit on Broadway — it won eight Tony awards, including for best new musical, provided starmaking roles to Lea Michele (“Glee”), Jonathan Groff (“Hamilton”) and John Gallagher Jr. (“American Idiot”), and ran for just over two years.

Mr. Arden, who has been collaborating with the Los Angeles troupe Deaf West Theater since appearing in their Broadway revival of “Big River” in 2003, thought that “Spring Awakening,” which he viewed as “a cautionary tale about the perils of miscommunication,” would have great resonance with a deaf cast. Both “Big River” and this “Spring Awakening” had two productions in Los Angeles before transferring to Broadway.

Without altering the Sater-Sheik book or lyrics, Mr. Arden has added a new context for the story. The deaf actors portray deaf students in a school that does not allow the use of sign language, implicitly nodding to a historical event (contemporaneous with the play’s setting in late 19th-century Germany) in which an international conference of educators called for the mandatory and exclusive use of oralism (lip reading and speech) when teaching deaf students.

In one scene, a teacher, played by Patrick Page, can be seen threatening students who use sign language, attempting to train the deaf to speak by having them feel, and then mimic, the movement of his mouth and throat, and by having them watch the impact of vocalizations on a feather held in front of the face.

In this “Spring Awakening,” which opened to good reviews on Sept. 27, the deaf actors are at the center: Mr. Arden has asked the cast, and is now expecting audiences, to focus attention on the signing, not the singing. The deaf actors are often downstage and lighted from the front; their hearing partners are generally lighted from behind, and in ensemble numbers the cast members look toward the signers.

“It is highly important that the performance is the deaf actors’, and the hearing actors are following their intention — we get in trouble if we get ahead of them,” said the actress Camryn Manheim, a onetime sign language interpreter who is making her Broadway debut playing several adult women in the show.

Doonesbury — Bigfooting.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Crime Report

This is both scary and ridiculous.

A Washington Post reporter who was arrested at a restaurant last year while reporting on protests in Ferguson, Mo., has been charged in St. Louis County with trespassing and interfering with a police officer and ordered to appear in court.

Wesley Lowery, a reporter on The Post’s national desk, was detained in a McDonald’s while he was in Missouri covering demonstrations sparked by a white police officer fatally shooting an unarmed black 18-year-old.

A court summons dated Aug. 6 — just under a year after Lowery’s arrest — was sent to Lowery, 25, ordering him to appear in a St. Louis County municipal court on Aug. 24. The summons notes that he could be arrested if he does not appear.

“Charging a reporter with trespassing and interfering with a police officer when he was just doing his job is outrageous,” Martin Baron, executive editor of The Post, said in a statement Monday. “You’d have thought law enforcement authorities would have come to their senses about this incident. Wes Lowery should never have been arrested in the first place. That was an abuse of police authority.

Good luck sneaking that one past the First Amendment.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Too Little, Too Late

The New York Timespublic editor admits that running with a story that starts out saying Hillary Clinton is being investigated for “criminal” behavior in regards to her private e-mail account and classified documents and then updating and revising the account numerous times before admitting there’s no real there there is bad journalism.

First, consider the elements. When you add together the lack of accountability that comes with anonymous sources, along with no ability to examine the referral itself, and then mix in the ever-faster pace of competitive reporting for the web, you’ve got a mistake waiting to happen. Or, in this case, several mistakes.

Reporting a less sensational version of the story, with a headline that did not include the word “criminal,” and continuing to develop it the next day would have been a wise play. Better yet: Waiting until the next day to publish anything at all.

Losing the story to another news outlet would have been a far, far better outcome than publishing an unfair story and damaging The Times’s reputation for accuracy.

What’s more, when mistakes inevitably happen, The Times needs to be much more transparent with readers about what is going on. Just revising the story, and figuring out the corrections later, doesn’t cut it.

That’s all well and good, but the lie has already made it halfway around the world.  You can bet that we’re going to see GOP attack ads on Hillary Clinton that include the words “criminal investigation” before the end of the week.

Monday, April 27, 2015


What a surprise: wingnuts fall for a bogus story.  Via TPM:

A Las Vegas man claims that he concocted a bogus story about Harry Reid’s brother beating up Reid to see whether he could get right-wing media outlets and blogs to run with it. He did. All without any corroboration or even requiring the man, Larry Pfeifer, to provide his true identity.


Pfeifer said he got the idea after the rightwing media started pushing a story that Reid’s eye injury was actually punishment from mafia figures with whom he purportedly had a falling out. Eventually Pfeifer’s tale made it onto the Limbaugh Show.

From the Las Vegas Sun:

Larry Pfeifer, a 50-year-old former consultant in the nightclub and entertainment industry, said he fabricated the story after becoming appalled that right-wing political blogger John Hinderaker published a rumor that Reid’s injuries stemmed from an assault by a Mafia enforcer. Pfeifer said he pitched his fake story about the Reid brothers’ supposed fight to Hinderaker, author of the Power Line blog, to test whether the blogger would publish it, as well. When Hinderaker reported it and the rumor was subsequently spread by others in conservative media, Pfeifer says he began plotting to self-report it as a lie to show the lack of credibility and journalistic standards among partisan media figures.

That’s not to say that lefties don’t fall for bullshit stories, too, but they usually aren’t as blatantly bogus as a guy getting a snootful, wandering into an AA meeting, and bragging how he cold-cocked the Senate Majority Leader, which Mr. Reid was at the time he got injured.

The sad part is that something like that will make into the mainstream media.  Not because anyone bothered to fact-check it, but because it’s being bleated on the right and hey, journalism is all about being objective, right?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Buying Garbage

The New York Times owns up to working with a right-wing hit man for dirt on Hillary Clinton.

In the long lead up to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign announcement, aides proved adept in swatting down critical books as conservative propaganda, including Edward Klein’s “Blood Feud,” about tensions between the Clintons and the Obamas, and Daniel Halper’s “Clinton Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine.”

But “Clinton Cash” is potentially more unsettling, both because of its focused reporting and because major news organizations including The Times, The Washington Post and Fox News have exclusive agreements with the author to pursue the story lines found in the book.

It’s a time-saving measure: why bother to do the work of “journalism” when you can go out there and buy whatever crap someone is peddling?

Do you really think the Times is buying into this so they can debunk it?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

War Story

NBC News anchor Brian Williams apologizes for remembering something that didn’t happen to him.

I yield the floor to those who were there and who know all too well how combat — or even just the proximity of it — can alter the perceptions.

I find this to be a pretty big nothing-burger. He wasn’t trying to personally profit from the situation, he was just trying to do something nice for the CSM. He even initially accurately reported what happened, and only now seems to have screwed up the narrative. And he immediately apologized when he realized he was wrong, on facebook in the thread where he was confronted, and again on tv…


And no, liberals, this is not the same as Hillary’s sniper fire bullshit, in which she completely made up stuff to embellish herself. Here, Williams just misspoke (misremembered/whatever blows your trumpet) in a tribute to an American soldier.

I don’t watch his network news program enough to care about Brian Williams, but, like John Cole, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that this is end of it, although I have my doubts.  This is just the sort of shiny-object thing that fills the vast void of what passes for public discourse today.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Granma, Indiana

Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) is not happy with the way the press covers his administration.  So he’s decided to start his own state-run media.

Gov. Mike Pence is starting a state-run taxpayer-funded news outlet that will make pre-written news stories available to Indiana media, as well as sometimes break news about his administration, according to documents obtained by The Indianapolis Star.

Pence is planning in late February to launch “Just IN,” a website and news outlet that will feature stories and news releases written by state press secretaries and is being overseen by a former Indianapolis Star reporter, Bill McCleery.

The difference between “Just IN” and Granma, the news outlet in Havana, Cuba, is that the latter has no problem labeling itself as the official voice of the political party in charge.  Why so shy, Mike?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Short Takes

The post-attack run of 3 million copies of Charlie Hebdo sold out.

Al-Qaeda in Yemen claimed responsibility for the Paris attack.

Feds file charges against a man who plotted to blow up the U.S. Capitol.

Secret Service executives demoted after report on scandals.

Climbers reach the top of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in Yosemite.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Reading

The Right to Be Offended — Karl Sharro in The Atlantic on the retreat of free speech.

As a satirist who focuses on the Middle East, I’ve bumped up against my share of boundaries. Two years ago, for example, I struggled with how to satirize the tendency of some Western observers to distort conflicts in the Middle East by attributing those conflicts to “ancient rivalries” rather than, say, contemporary political struggles. Ultimately, I decided that the best approach would be to push that logic to its absurd conclusion by writing a “tribal” guide to the region, which relied on familiar stereotypes about Sunnis, Shiites, Jews, and others. I hoped readers would understand that these caricatures were meant not to be crude and bigoted, but rather to show how disconnected the ancient-rivalries thesis is from reality. And readers did understand—for the most part. This ability to test the boundaries of good taste, and even to be offensive, is essential to effective satire. But it’s now under threat.

Following the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris and the cold-blooded murder of 12 people, a familiar refrain rang out in some quarters. The assault on the satirical magazine, so the argument went, represented a collision of cultures: a Western one that champions freedom of speech and an Islamic one that does not tolerate offenses to its religious symbols. But one of the real storylines here isn’t some clash of civilizations; it’s the steady erosion of freedom of expression and the rise of the right to be offended—in the West as well as other parts of the world.

The culture-clash interpretation of the horror in Paris transcends political divides in the West. On the right, some claim that Muslims’ beliefs are incompatible with modernity and Western values. On the left, some construe the attack as a retaliation for severe offenses, essentially suggesting that Muslims are incapable of responding rationally to such offenses and that it is therefore best not to provoke them. The latter explanation is dressed up in the language of social justice and marginalization, but is, at its core, a patronizing view of ordinary Muslims and their capacity to advocate for their rights without resorting to nihilistic violence. This outlook also promotes the idea that Muslims and other people of Middle Eastern origin are defined primarily by their religion, which in turn devalues and demeans the attempts of Arab and Middle Eastern secularists to define themselves through varying interpretations of religion or even by challenging religion and its role in public life. By seeking to present religion as a form of cultural identity that should be protected from offense and critique, Western liberals are consequently undermining the very struggles against the authority of inherited institutions through which much of the Western world’s social and political progress was achieved.

Given that I often deal with the issue of jihadism in my satire, the Charlie Hebdo attack highlighted the dangers that my colleagues and I face when we mock extremists. Still, there is a risk in framing what we do as satirists and cartoonists as a heroic battle against extremism. For one thing, this implies that only ‘worthy’ works of satire should be defended on the grounds of free speech. For freedom of speech and expression to mean something, they must be defended on their own terms, not because of their political usefulness in the fight against extremism.

This is a critical distinction given the current climate in the West, where a culture of taking offense has found fertile ground and is increasingly restricting what artists and writers are able to do and say. The British writer Kenan Malik traces the origins of this trend to 1989, when the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomenei issued his infamous fatwa against Salman Rushdie for allegedly blaspheming Islam in The Satanic Verses. In From Fatwa to Jihad, Malik argues convincingly that the response to the fatwa and similar threats has been counterproductive, coming to pose a grave threat to free speech. “Internalizing the fatwa has not just created a new culture of self-censorship, it has also helped generate the same problems to which self-censorship was supposedly a response,” he writes. “The fear of giving offence has simply made it easier to take offence.”


The murders in Paris have certainly brought the struggle for free speech into stark relief. But it’s premature to expect the episode to reverse the trend toward more restrictions on expression in the West. This week, for instance, the gush of support for freedom of expression was quickly countered by backlash against an op-ed written by Anjem Choudary, in which the radical British Islamist justified the Charlie Hebdo attack by claiming that Muslims don’t believe in free speech and that France shouldn’t have allowed the cartoons to be published. Many people argued that he shouldn’t have been given a platform in the press, particularly at a moment like this (for a sense of the intensity of the response, just look at Twitter).

But restricting free speech further, even in the case of so-called hate speech, would be precisely the wrong response to the carnage in Paris. Instead, we should reassert the rights of satirical magazines and radical preachers alike to express their views, and the freedom of anyone and everyone to challenge them. That’s the best lesson to learn from this tragedy.

What’s Funny — Colin Stokes in The New Yorker.

Over the past few days, it has become apparent that many people have lost their ability to laugh. Some of us could laugh at one point but, owing to recent events, have become unable to do so. Others of us seem never to have been able to laugh in the first place. This is a guide both for those who only now find themselves incapable of laughter and for those who have had difficulty laughing their entire lives.

Part I. A joke is a thing that is meant to make life tolerable.

Suffering is all around us, just like furniture when you are at an IKEA store. Sometimes it comes from the natural world, like the wood used to make the furniture that is currently surrounding you at the IKEA store. Sometimes it comes from other people, like the people who pick things up and then leave them in totally random places around the IKEA store. Sometimes it’s just there, and we don’t know where it came from, like that ownerless dog that follows you around the IKEA parking lot, and then wants to come home with you, but the second you let it into your car, it poops everywhere.

When people make a joke, what they are doing is combining words and/or images in ways that are intended to surprise you a little. They may even surprise you a lot. These surprises make us laugh because we weren’t expecting them, and we involuntarily react by laughing when we are released from a state of not knowing what is about to come. Laughing lets us forget about the suffering that is an unavoidable part of life, at least temporarily. It frees us to lie down in a bed that we don’t own at IKEA, and to try to forget about the small dog that changed the way our car smells forever.

Part II. Sometimes jokes make people upset.

Necessarily, in the course of trying to surprise people, jokes can surprise some people a little too much. Once I told a joke to James Bond when he was suspended above a tank of sharks, trapped in a device that would drop him into the tank if he laughed. He didn’t laugh, though, because he’s a professional spy. Also, it was a current-events joke, and he’s a fictional character from the nineteen-fifties, so he didn’t get it, even though it was really funny, I swear. People often get angry about a joke that they think went too far, and they lash out at the person who told it to them. After he escaped from the shark-tank-laughing device, James Bond was pretty upset with me.

But those who write jokes come to expect negative reactions from a certain number of people. James Bond doesn’t come to any of my standup shows anymore, and certainly not when he’s stuck in the shark-tank-laughing device, which is surprisingly often.

Part III. Jokes can tell truths about things.

Some jokes are more than just surprising per se, because they articulate a truth about something in real life. My friends used to joke that I didn’t know what the term “per se” meant, because I always used it when I was talking about pears that could talk. We laugh at these types of jokes and then, when we’re done laughing, we realize that some of the things we heard in the jokes relate to real life. In this case, I realized that I was, in fact, using “per se” incorrectly.

Part IV. Sometimes getting upset at jokes helps you learn new things.

There are some people who have distorted beliefs about reality. I once fiercely believed that priests and rabbis rarely frequented bars together. When people hear jokes that challenge what they think they know, they can get angry. Did you hear the one about the priest and the rabbi in the bar? It took me a long time to wrap my mind around that one. But now I am surprised by almost no one entering a bar.

Part V. Jokes can be bad.

Some jokes are just completely horrible. Did you hear the one about the blind ship captain? He couldn’t sea anything. That’s a horrendous joke. But I still should have the right to tell it. Just like you have the right to say that it’s not funny, and then temporarily blind me and make me the captain of a ship to show me how unfunny it is. Actually, you don’t have the right to do that—that would be false imprisonment and the infliction of grievous bodily harm. What you should really do is say that it’s not funny, perhaps call it insensitive to blind ship captains, and then move on.

Doonesbury — Hot tips.

Monday, December 8, 2014

TNR Goes Down

Years ago — long before the internet — my mom gave me a subscription to The New Republic, and I dutifully read it.  She had told me that it was not exactly a liberal publication but it had good writing and a long history of in-depth journalism going back to 1914.

But when it came time to renew I didn’t bother.  I think I was in the midst of moving from Colorado to Michigan or something and I already had subscriptions to enough magazines — Newsweek, The Nation, The New Yorker, and Caribbean Travel & Life cluttered the coffee table — and if there was something really important in TNR, Mom would clip it out and send it.

Now the magazine, like most print publications, is going through paroxysms of change as the internet and on-line writing overwhelm the ink barrels.  A few years ago TNR was bought up by Chris Hughes who once won the lottery and roomed with Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard and therefore had the money to buy it.  Last week it went through a major seismic change at the top — mass resignations by editors and top managers– and over the weekend the magazine announced that it was going on hiatus until February.  My money is on it not coming back at all.

There’s no doubt that the magazine had an impact on a lot of readers and writers.  Respected journalists from both the left and the right worked there; people like Michael Kinsley to Andrew Sullivan were editors, and the history of the publication goes back to the heyday of investigative journalism in the early 1900’s.  But as Josh Marshall notes, it has had its time.

I do not think there can be any doubt that what TNR was in decades past was deeply undermined by the publishing revolution of the last 20 years. This didn’t happen in the print versus digital sense we normally think of, not like what happened with newspapers, which is very different.

The key is that 30 years ago, if you wanted to read meaty, smart and incisive writing about politics, policy and the political culture of the United States – written for people who were really into those things – there just were not many places to find it. There were very, very few places in fact.

There were no blogs. There were none of the numerous digital publications which all to some degree take a stab at producing that kind of writing. There was The Nation further to the left, National Review on the right. And none of this is to diminish other even smaller magazines playing a similar role. But there was just nothing comparable to the profusion of material (content, as we now say) we have today.

I don’t like to sound callous and I’m sorry that the people who worked at TNR who had no role in management or editorial decisions are out of a job right before the holidays, but that’s what happens in the business of journalism: magazines come and go, and in the era of on-line journalism, it is especially tough.  Besides, as I noted elsewhere, if I want to read long articles with obscure cultural references, I’ll click on Andrew Sullivan.